Museums Of The Peculiar
I’m in rainy, humid Barcelona this weekend, sandwiched between two odd museums, The Museum of Cannabis and the Museum of Chocolate (presumably one would visit them in that order, possibly adding the Museum of Pizza). Chocolate I can understand as it has always been seen with different purposes: as medicinal, an aphrodisiac, a nutritional food and something located between myth and reality. Meanwhile on London’s ‘The Great Wen’ site there’s a look at what is effectively the Museum of Illness, the Gordon Museum at Guy’s Hospital.
Have museums always been this specific, or is it a new thing? On Euston Road you can see Napoleon’s toothbrush at the Wellcome, a Museum of medicine, a museum of biology and a museum of literature in the British Library. My local museum is about canal boats and ice cream (the two linked by the fact that ice was once transported by canal boat and stored under the museum in its ice house).
London’s Black Museum is still heading toward a public opening under the title of the Police Museum, Boston has a Museum of Bad Art, Germany has a curried sausage museum, Leeds Castle houses a dog collar museum, Iceland has a phallus museum, and those crazy Japanese have a Parasite Museum. I seem to recall visiting Amsterdam’s museum of torture (there’s another in San Gimignano, Italy) and Greenwich’s museum of fans.
But are these really museums? When does a museum become a museum and not just a collection of similar objects? There are said to be over 300 museums in London alone, and I certainly recall growing up within walking distance of at least half a dozen.
Two museums failed in London, the museum of film, a disastrous South Bank miss-mash of the mundane (old projection equipment) and the hokey (actors dressed as movie stars) and more sadly, Covent Garden’s Theatre Museum, which in a city that has the greatest number and history of theatres in the world seemed like a dead cert, but closed its doors after a long struggle to survive a few years back. Perhaps theatre is simply to ephemeral to survive as a permanent exhibition.